Hysteria does not make for good medical policies. An unfortunate example of the hysteria surrounding the acquired immune deficiency syndrome, surfacing just as many in Congress prepare to face elections, is the Senate's recent passage of two bills concerning health workers with AIDS.
The first, backed by the leaders of both parties, would direct the states to require health professionals doing "invasive" procedures to submit to tests for human immunodeficiency virus infection. That bill, crafted with a close eye on the new guidelines published by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control, also requires review by a panel of experts before an infected person can perform dental extractions, bone or abdominal surgery, obstetric and gynecological procedures, heart and blood-vessel catheterization or other procedures. Mandating action by state medical societies against practitioners who violate its guidelines, the bill puts teeth into what otherwise would be a tame rendition of a doctor's ethical responsibility to the patients. So it is not surprising that major professional societies and AIDS advocacy groups have either backed this bill or expressed no serious opposition to it.
The second, backed by North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, would vest the final authority for a doctor's decisions in the Justice Department. It would mandate prison terms of at least 10 years and fines up to $10,000 for health-care workers who knew they had AIDS but failed to inform patients on whom they performed invasive procedures. Passed 81-18, this is a bill many senators probably supported rather than face the fears and confusion many of their constituents express about AIDS.